Is it Safe to Visit Older Relatives Now that COVID Restrictions Have Eased?

Last week, there were numerous announcements from the Prime Minister and State Premiers detailing how coronavirus restrictions will be eased across Australia. The National Cabinet has outlined a three-step plan to relax restrictions across the next few months, and by July, it is hoped that across the whole country, people will be able to return to work and gatherings of up to 100 will be allowed. As a result, many Australians are starting to feel more hopeful that their lives will be able to return to normal, or the new version or normal.

However, it is well documented that people over the age of 60 are at far higher risk of getting very sick or dying from the coronavirus. And people who are over 85 are even more vulnerable, with a death rate that varies between 10% and 27%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This has left many Australians wondering whether or not it is safe to visit older and more vulnerable people.

Should We Be Visiting Older People At The Moment?

As the data has outlined, the risk of getting very sick or even dying of COVID-19 is greater for those in their 60s or over. However, even people in their 40s and 50s are also at risk if they have pre-existing health conditions, such as lung disease or heart failure. As such, deciding whether or not you should visit people in these groups at the moment is very difficult. Social interaction is so important for our mental wellbeing, particularly at this time; however, we know from what has happened in other countries that the best way to stop the spread of this disease is to keep your distance. So, whether or not your visit these people is a personal decision that comes down to your own discretion. Hopefully, you have been able to “visit” using interactions such as Facetime or Zoom and you may be able to continue to communicate in this way if you are worried about the risk of a face-to-face visit. Many older people have really taken new means of communication in their stride, though the older the person, the more difficult the new technology may be for them to master, so a face-to-face visit may be necessary.

If We Don’t Have Symptoms, Does That Mean it is Safe?

At the moment we don’t know how many people are carrying the coronavirus without symptoms, or with mild symptoms that are not necessarily associated with the disease. Some research suggests that as many as 50% of people with COVID-19 are not aware that they have the virus. This means that for every one person who has symptoms, there’s probably at least one other person (perhaps more) who have the infection but are symptomless. These are the people who are more likely to infect others.

What to Do If An Older Person Isn’t Taking Social Distancing Seriously

There are a number of people in Australia that are not taking social distancing seriously. For most of them, the reason behind this is that they don’t think coronavirus is a real problem and they think the media is exaggerating the situation. If an older adult comes to you with this argument, it may be useful again to point out statistics from other countries that quite clearly show that people in their 50s with illnesses and people who are 60 and older are most susceptible to this disease.

Is it Safe to Deliver Food & Medicine or Provide Other Care to an Older Relative?

If you have to visit an older person to provide care or deliver food, or if you simply decide that you are going to pop in for a visit, there are certain hygiene practices that you must adhere to. The main one being, wash your hands. Wash your hands as soon as you get there and any time that you have to go in and out the door. Also, wash any packages that you are delivering before you put them down. While you’re there it’s also a good idea to disinfect surfaces that are commonly touched, like light switches and doorknobs. Also, if you’re not providing physical assistance in moving the person around, make sure you stay 1.5 metres away from them.

Is it Safe for Volunteer Organisations to Deliver Supplies to Older and More Vulnerable People?

This question is similar to whether or not you should be visiting older relatives, as it doesn’t have a clear-cut answer. Older people still need groceries at this time. So, is it safer for them to go out in public and get their groceries themselves? Or is it better to have them delivered by an organisation or family member? In most cases, ordering a delivery directly from the grocery store is the least risky option. Alternatively, nominating one family member to pick up the groceries, deliver them and clean them is also low-risk. For people who don’t have these options, they may need to rely on volunteer organisations. In most cases, these will be safe to use, as the organisation will ensure volunteers are carefully screened and have daily checks to make sure they are not ill. In addition, people who are working for these organisations will be given extensive training on the best hygiene practices.

This is an extremely difficult time for many people across Australia and globally. Remember that there is help and advice available to you, from a number of organisations across Australia. For more information on caregiving through the coronavirus pandemic, check out our previous blog:

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